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'Big mistake': Community leaders slam Pauline Hanson's Melbourne public housing comments

Dr Berhan Ahmed and Pauline Hanson Source: SBS

African community leaders have criticised One Nation leader Pauline Hanson for comments she made about residents under hard lockdown in Flemington and North Melbourne’s public housing estates.

Senator Hanson labelled residents in the nine public housing estate towers "drug addicts" and "alcoholics" who can't speak English, in an interview on Monday on Channel Nine's Today Show.

After widespread condemnation, Channel Nine released a statement to announce that Hanson won't be joining the Today Show in the future.

Senator Hanson’s comments represented yet another “big mistake” by the One Nation leader, says Yaseen Moussa, an Activity Manager at the Eritrean NGO Eritrean Geberty Community.

Mr Moussa’s NGO organises social and sporting activities for members of the Eritrean community living in public housing in Flemington.

“We are currently at war against this disease. We need to overcome it and not get distracted by these groundless accusations,” he told SBS Arabic24.

More than 3000 residents of social housing in Victoria are under hard lockdown as part of government efforts to stop the spread of coronavirus in the state, which has seen a significant spike in recorded cases. 

Mr Moussa is in Flemington where he's assisting the authorities by delivering essential supplies to the residents. 

He believes Senator’s Hanson comments are contrary to what he knows about the community. 

“What she said is a great mistake. 

“I know the communities here, many of those who live here come from African and Muslim communities. Many of them are single mothers, or families trying to make a living.” 

In his work, Mr Moussa is in constant discussion with members of Eritrean and Somali communities. He said some of them arrived in Australia recently and may not know English. 

However, he said: “They are also very curious about living in Australia and they come to us with many questions and we inform them. Of course, they know about coronavirus.”

A view of one of the public housing towers in North Melbourne, Tuesday, July 7, 2020
A view of one of the public housing towers in North Melbourne, Tuesday, July 7, 2020
AAP

The decision by Channel Nine to cut ties with Senator Hanson was praised by Dr Berhan Ahmed, the Eritrean Australian founder of the African Think Tank based in Melbourne. 

“Big broadcasters like Channel Nine or ABC represent Australia, and Australia should not be represented by Pauline Hanson,” he said.

“Not hosting her means we are on the right path.”

Dr Ahmed, who is a senior research fellow at the University of Melbourne, believes that if Australia wants to continue being a cohesive multicultural society, “respect should be given to everyone living on its land”, including those living in Flemington public housing. 

He dismissed Senator’s Hanson comments that the residents of social housing in Melbourne don’t know enough about coronavirus, accusing the One Nation leader of "seeking popularity" through her comments. 

“Everyone in society knows about the virus, not only in Melbourne but around the globe.

“Some of the audience like this kind of sensationalisation, and [Hanson] wants to appeal to them.

“They want to portray us as a problem within Australia. This should not be what the media does. It is our responsibility to fight this perception.”

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announces the border closure
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews says the state is doing all it can to contain the Melbourne outbreak.
AAP

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews says metropolitan Melbourne will be put into a six-week lockdown after recording 191 new coronavirus infections on Tuesday. 

The lockdown, which will also apply to the Mitchell Shire north of the city, will take effect from midnight Wednesday.

Mr Andrews said there was no other option than to take such difficult steps.  

Of those new cases, 13 have been linked to the nine Melbourne public housing towers currently in total lockdown.

Residents in affected public housing towers who need access to support and assistance should call the Housing Call Centre on 1800 961 054. If you need a translator, first call 131 450. Both services are 24/7. More information can be found here. 

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Check your state’s restrictions on gathering limits.  

If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, stay home and arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080. 

News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus 

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